Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1644, was born William Penn.

Penn was an advocate of religious and political freedom, who founded the colony of Pennsylvania, as a sanctuary for religious minorities.

Penn was born on 14th October 1644 at London, the son of Admiral Sir William Penn. He acquired the foundations of a classical education at the Chigwell Grammar School, where he was subjected to Puritan influences. In 1655, his education came to an abrupt end, when the family were obliged to move to Ireland, after Admiral Penn suffered a disastrous naval defeat and was dismissed from his post.

In Ireland, Penn was inspired by a Quaker itinerant preacher, Thomas Loe, who apparently transformed his religious beliefs, from the orthodoxy of Anglicism to the unconventional views of The Quakers. In 1660, Penn was admitted to Christ Church, Oxford, but in 1662, Parliament passed the Corporation Act, requiring all state officials and university students to conform to the Church of England, and consequently Penn was expelled. Admiral Penn then sent his son college of Saumur, France, and then to Lincoln's Inn, in the fond hope that a conventional Protestant education would settle the young man into a conformist way of life.

When in 1666, Penn was sent to Ireland to manage the family estates, he crossed paths once again with Thomas Loe and, after hearing him preach, decided to join the Quakers. Following his conversion, Penn published 42 books and pamphlets. His first publication Truth Exalted upheld Quaker doctrines whilst simultaneously attacking the Catholics, Anglicans and the Dissenters. This was followed by The Sandy Foundation Shaken, in which Penn queried the doctrine of the Trinity and associated Protestant principles. Penn was promptly imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote his magnum opus, No Cross, No Crown, in which he expounded the principles of Quakerism, condemning the luxury of the Restoration, and extolling Quaker values of moderation, prudence and sobriety.  Eventually, Penn was released from the Tower in 1669.

In 1670, Penn became involved in an extraordinary court case which set a legal precedent.  Having found his meetinghouse padlocked by the authorities, he conducted a service in the street and was promptly arrested for ‘inciting a riot’. At his trial at the Old Bailey, Penn conducted his own defence and convinced the jury that he was innocent. Nevertheless, the judge ordered the jury to convict, but when the foreman, Edward Bushell, declared a verdict of ‘Not guilty’, the judge was enraged. The jurymen were fined and imprisoned, but they were vindicated when the Lord Chief Justice, denounced the trial judge and declared that juries were to be allowed to bring in whatever verdict they chose. The trial, known as Bushell's Case, stands as a landmark in British legal history.

Admiral Penn died in 1670, and Penn inherited his father's estates. In 1672, he married Gulielma Springett, a Quaker by whom he had eight children, four of whom died in infancy. Part of Penn’s inheritance from his father was a large debt from king Charles II, who had no money to pay off his liabilities, but instead of payment in cash, granted Penn a tract of land on the west bank of the Delaware River. Penn named this province Sylvania, Latin for woodlands, and hoped to build a refuge for Quakers in an ideal Christian commonwealth. He called this enterprise ‘The great holy experiment.’ He drew up a frame of government embodying Quaker idealism, which he said would ‘leave his successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of a whole country.’  Freedom of worship was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of man were safeguarded.

In 1682, Penn sailed in for Sylvania, leaving his family behind, and found his colony already established by others, in accordance with his guidelines. He presided over the government Assembly, and made treaties with the Indians. He was unable to negotiate a boundary between his province and the neighbouring colony of Maryland, and was obliged to return home to take legal action against Maryland’s governor, Lord Baltimore.

In 1694, Penn’s first wife died and in 1696, he married Hannah Callowhill, by whom he had seven children. He visited Sylvania briefly in 1699, but the colony then degenerated into bickering and chaos, but did do him the honour of changing its name to Pennsylvania. Penn died on 10th August 1718 and is buried in Old Jordans Cemetery. [Old Jordans Cemetery, Jordans Lane, Jordans, Beaconsfield, Bucks. HP9 2SW]

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